Al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf al-Thaqafi

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Al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf al-Thaqafi
Agent of Bani Umayya
TeknonymAbu Muhammad
Religious AffiliationSunni
Birth39/659-60, 40/660-1, 41/661-2 or 42/662-3, and on another account, 45/665-6
Place of BirthBanu Sakhr village
Places of ResidenceTa'if, Egypt, Syria, Wasit
Known forExcessive Bloodshed
Notable rolesorganizer of army, Ruler of Hijaz, Ruler of Iraq,
Activitiesdifferent battles, conquests in the Indian Subcontinent, his constructions

Al-Ḥajjāj b. Yūsuf al-Thaqafī (Arabic: الحجاج بن يوسف الثقفي, d. 95/714) was the ruler of Iraq and Hijaz in the Umayyad period and was hostile to Shias. He played a significant role in the establishment of the Umayyad government. His loyalty to the Umayyad dynasty and his services to protect their government made him highly respected by the Umayyads. Upon his death, 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan recommended his son, Walid b. 'Abd al-Malik, to respect al-Hajjaj. Moreover, he named one of his sons "Hajjaj".

He is known as a ruthless, brutal person. He slaughtered his opponents so excessively that he was even reprimanded by 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan. Historians have estimated the number of people slaughtered by al-Hajjaj to be 120,000 or even 130,000 people.

Al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf founded the city, Wasit, and died there.

Lineage, Kunya, and Birth

He was born in the village, Banu Sakhr. There are different accounts of his year of birth: 39/659-60, 40/660-1, 41/661-2 or 42/662-3, and on another account, 45/665-6 or a short time after that. On one account, al-Hajjaj was called "Kulayb" when he was a child; he later changed his name to "al-Hajjaj". On another account, Kulayb was his title when he was a child. His kunya was Abu Muhammad.

Al-Hajjaj's father, Yusuf b. Hakam al-Thaqafi, was a head and a nobleman of the Thaqif tribe. He was intimately friends with the household of Marwan b. Hakam al-Umawi. He attended the Battle of Marwan and the battles in the period of 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan. In the period of 'Abd al-Malik, he was the ruler of some areas. He died when his son, al-Hajjaj, ruled Hijaz (Medina). His mother was Fari'a or Furay'a, the daughter of Hammam b. 'Urwa al-Thaqafi.

Childhood and Adolescence

There is no much information about al-Hajjaj's early life and his youth. Some scattered accounts imply that like his ancestors, he was a pitman, shepard, and a tanner. It seems that al-Hajjaj learned the Qur'an and religious doctrines from his father when he was a child, and he then learned from teachers such as 'Abd Allah b. 'Abbas, Anas b. Malik, Samura b. Jundab, and Abu Burda b. Abi Musa al-Asha'ari.

Al-Hajjaj used to teach children in a village, called Kawthar near Ta'if. And it seems that he also taught children of Sulayman b. 'Abd al-Malik and "Sulayman b. Na'im al-Himyari" (Sulayman b. Abd al-Malik's scribe).

He lived in Ta'if until he was twenty and so years old. He then went to Syria with his father.


Al-Hajjaj was ugly and short. He was a competent and eloquent orator.

Historical sources show that he was a professional politician. He used tricks to win battles. Some historians characterized him as cruel, brutal, liar, and evil.

In a reply to a letter from 'Abd al-Malik, al-Hajjaj called himself a stubborn, jealous, and malicious person.

In the Period of Marwan b. Hakam

In Egypt and Syria

Al-Hajjaj and his father were in the army of Marwan b. Hakam. They went to Egypt in 64/683-4 in order to free the country from 'Abd al-Rahman b. Jahdam al-Fihri, 'Abd Allah b. Zubayr's agent, and thus Egypt was annexed to the Umayyad realm. After about two months of sojourn in the city of "Fustat", al-Hajjaj and his father returned to Syria together with Marwan.

In Hijaz

In the Sha'ban or Ramadan of 65/March or April of 685, Marwan b. Hakam sent an army to Hijaz under the commandership of Hubaysh b. Dalaja al-Qayni (or Hubaysh b. Dulja) in order to quench 'Abd Allah b. Zubayr. Al-Hajjaj and his father attended the battle as flag-holders of a part of the army. The army was defeated by 'Abd Allah b. Zubayr near the village, Rabadha, and escaped the battlefield. Later the defeat was mentioned by al-Hajjaj as a shame.

In the Period of 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan

During the caliphate of 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan, al-Hajjaj was appointed as the head of Aban b. Marwan's police, and the agent of the caliph in Palestine. He then became a member of Rawh b. Zanba' al-Judhami's police, the caliph's minister and his closest companions, and the organizer of his army. Al-Hajjaj was very serious in his job which made him more respected by 'Abd al-Malik. After a while, the caliph appointed him as the first ruler of a new town, called Tibala, but when al-Hajjaj approached Tibala and found it small and insignificant, he returned to 'Abd al-Malik and excused himself from ruling such a small town.

The Battle with Mus'ab b. Zubayr

Al-Hajjaj had a significant role in organizing people of Syria to go to Iraq and fight with Mus'ab b. Zubayr in 72/691-2. He was in Syrian army in 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan's battle in Iraq. In this battle, Mus'ab was killed, and Iraq was annexed to the Umayyad realm.

After the conquest of Iraq, al-Hajjaj was sent from Kufa to Hijaz to quench 'Abd Allah b. Zubayr. He was the commander of the army, and most of the army were from Syria.

The Battle with 'Abd Allah b. Zubayr

Al-Hajjaj left Kufa in Jumada I, 72/September-October 691, he went to Ta'if in the same year, and then camped there. Apparently the reason was that he was commissioned not to invade Mecca and Masjid al-Haram. After one or two months of stay in Ta'if and some clashes with the army of 'Abd Allah b. Zubayr in 'Arafat, when the caliph's forces arrived, he went to Mecca with the permission of the caliph. He sieged the city for seven or nine months since Dhu l-Qa'da 1, 72/March 25, 692, and threw stones to the Ka'ba with catapults. After serious battles, he killed 'Abd Allah b. Zubayr in 17th Jumada I or Jumada II of 73, /October 4 or /November 3, 692. He conquered Mecca and annexed Hijaz to the Umayyad realm.

Ruler of Hijaz

Because of his services to the establishment of the Umayyad caliphate, al-Hajjaj was appointed by 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan as the agent of Mecca and later that of Medina, Ta'if, and then Yemen and Yamama.

In his first step, al-Hajjaj cleaned the effects of the battle in Masjid al-Haram. Early in 74/693-4, he went to Medina, and after one or two months of stay there, returned to Mecca, and reconstructed the Ka'ba at the command of the caliph. During his sojourn in Medina, he maltreated people of Medina, and particularly the Sahaba of the Prophet (s).

Al-Hajjaj went to Syria together with a group of senior people in Hijaz, and visited the Umayyad caliph.

Rule of Iraq

When al-Hajjaj ruled Hijaz for two (or three) years, 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan removed him from the position and, in Rajab or Ramadan, 75/October-November, 694 or December 694-January 695), appointed him as the ruler of Iraq and gave him full authority. Thus Imam 'Ali's (a) well-known prediction (in an oration addressed to people of Kufa) of a cruel man from the Thaqif tribe dominating Iraq was realized.

When he was appointed as the ruler of Iraq, he hasted to arrive there. He arrived in Kufa with only 12 cavalries. On Friday, he went to the mosque with a covered face, and in a well-known oration, he threatened people who had escaped the army of Muhallab b. Abi Sufra —the commander of Bushr b. Marwan's army— to fight with Haruriyya Khawarij that he would kill them unless they join him within three days. After dominating Kufa, al-Hajjaj went to Basra and delivered a threatening speech, like his speech in Kufa, and he then went to Rustaqubadh to reinforce Muhallab in his fight with Khawarij.

Battle with Ibn Jarud

When al-Hajjaj arrived in Rustaqubadh, he encountered the first riot of Iraqi people under the leadership of 'Abd Allah b. Jarud. The riot was caused by al-Hajjaj's insistence that people should resist in battlefields until they win and his decision to reduce the soldier's wages to 100 dirhams. In this riot, which occurred in Rabi' II, 76/July-August 695, Iraqi people plundered al-Hajjaj's property and his armaments. After consultations with his companions and upon the arrival of backup forces, al-Hajjaj fought with them and killed Ibn Jarud.

Quenching Iraqi Africans

At the time when Ibn Jarud rioted, Iraqi Africans rioted under the leadership of Ribah Shirzanji (or Sharzanji) and conquered the areas surrounding Basra. Al-Hajjaj sent an army of people of Basra to quench them in the plains of Khuzestan (near Dawraq).

Battle with Khawarij

At the end of the Month of Ramadan in 75/January, 695, al-Hajjaj asked Muhallab and 'Abd al-Rahman b. Mikhnaf to quickly fight with Azariqa faction of khawarij led by Qatari b. Fuja'a. These clashes lasted up to the beginning of 78/697 when khawarij started an internal dispute and were crushed by al-Hajjaj.

In 76/695-6 and 77/696-7, Khawarij rose against al-Hajjaj under the leadership of Shabib b. Yazid al-Shaybani, and tens of battles occurred between the army of al-Hajjaj and Shabib's army in Iraq. In all these battles, Hajjaj's army was defeated. Eventually, al-Hajjaj defeated Shabib and his soldiers.

Mutarraf's Uprising

In 77/696-7, Mutarraf b. Mughira b. Shu'ba —al-Hajjaj's agent in Mada'in— rose against the Umayyads and announced the removal of 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan from the position of caliphate, and issued a permission for killing al-Hajjaj. Al-Hajjaj imprisoned Hamza, Mutarraf's brother and supporter, in Hamadan. He sent an army to fight with Mutarraf. Mutarraf and his companions were killed near Isfahan and their uprising was quenched.

Battle with Ibn Ash'ath

The greatest and most dangerous riot against al-Hajjaj was undoubtedly that of 'Abd al-Rahman b. Ash'ath al-Kindi. The riot lasted from 81/700-1 to 84/703-4.

In late 79/699 or early 80/699, al-Hajjaj provided a 40,000-member army called "Tawawis Army" (Army of Peacocks) under the command of 'Abd al-Rahman b. Muhammad b. Ash'ath in order to quench Ratbil in Sistan. After some victories, Ibn Ash'ath decided to temporarily suspend his progress.

Al-Hajjaj opposed his decision, and insisted that Ibn Ash'ath go on his military advance until he conquers Kabul. This disagreement led to Ibn Ash'ath's uprising against al-Hajjaj. Ibn Ash'ath's army, consisting of over 70,000 people, pledged their allegiance to him, and he defeated al-Hajjaj.

When 'Abd al-Malik's backup forces arrived, al-Hajjaj went to Basra and fought with Ibn Ash'ath. In the first battle, al-Hajjaj was victorious, but in the second battle, which occurred on Dhu l-Hijja 10, 81/January 25, 701, he was defeated and had to retreat to Basra. After this, Ibn Ash'ath went to Zawiya, near Basra, to fight with al-Hajjaj, but after the first victory, he was defeated in Muharram 82/February 701. After a fierce battle with 'Abd al-Rahman b. 'Abbas al-Hashimi, al-Hajjaj took Basra back, and gave an amnesty to its people.

When al-Hajjaj learned that Ibn Ash'ath's 200,000-member army were 7 Farsakhs away north of Kufa, he launched a battle against them, and after 100 days and 80 battles lasting from Rabi' I 1 to Jumada II 14, 82/April 15 to July 26, 701), he defeated Ibn Ash'ath and decapitated most of the prisoners.

In Sha'ban 83/August-September 702, al-Hajjaj defeated Ibn Ash'ath's army once again. This time Ibn Ash'ath escaped to Sistan. After a compromise with the ruler of Sistan, al-Hajjaj made an agreement with him to extradite Ibn Ash'ath to Iraq. He did so, but Ibn Ash'ath killed himself on his way to Iraq.

Conquests in the Indian Subcontinent

After quenching domestic opponents, al-Hajjaj ordered Qutayba b. Muslim al-Bahili (the ruler of Khurasan) to continue his conquests, and he conquered many cities in Transoxiana and Central Asia, and on the other hand, Muhammad b. Qasim al-Thaqafi conquered parts of Sindh and the Indian Subcontinent.

Al-Hajjaj's Performance

Al-Hajjaj's Constructions

Al-Hajjaj started some construction projects during his rule, including a water well in Mecca called Yaquta, dams around Mecca to reserve water supplies, and farms around creeks from Euphrates. He also constructed a city, called "Nile", near Euphrates north of Hillah. Today only ruins of the city have remained. From 83/702-3 to 86/705, al-Hajjaj constructed another city, called Wasit, and made specific laws to keep it clean and beautiful, and stayed there until his death.

In 75/694-5 and 76/695-6, al-Hajjaj minted dirhams and dinars with Arabic inscriptions.

On some accounts, al-Hajjaj asked Nasr b. 'Asim and Yahya b. Ya'mur (students of Abu l-Aswad al-Du'ali who had learned Arabic grammar from Imam 'Ali (a)) to punctuate similar letters in order to prevent confusions. He also asked memorizers of the Qur'an to divide it into five to ten parts.

It is commonly held that al-Hajjaj was the first person who covered the Ka'ba with dibaj or silk. And he was the first person who made ships pitchy and annointed them, and built them with nails.

Moreover, the Ash'ari household moved to Qom because of al-Hajjaj's rigorous treatments. This had a crucial role in the development of Shiism in Qom.

Regard for Poems and Poets

Al-Hajjaj was known for his eloquence, literature and poems, and because of this, he had a high regard for poets and men of literature. Many poets went to him, and some prominent poets, such as Jarir, praised him. However, some poets reproached him.

Loyalty to the Umayyads

Al-Hajjaj's loyalty to the Umayyads and his attempts to protect their caliphate made him respected by the Umayyad caliphs. 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan recommended his son, Walid, to be close to al-Hajjaj when he was dying. He called one of his sons "al-Hajjaj". Walid b. 'Abd al-Malik also respected al-Hajjaj and called him the skin of his face. He was highly saddened by hearing al-Hajjaj's death.

Excessive Bloodshed

Al-Hajjaj massively killed his and Umayyad's opponents. He was fond of killing, as he is quoted as saying that he took pleasure in shedding blood and doing things that no one else has ever done. Al-Hajjaj slaughtered thousands of prisoners of "Dayr Jamajim" and "Zawiya", and according to historians, he slaughtered over 130,000 people. He so excessively killed his opponents that he came to be reprimanded by 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan —he wrote a letter to al-Hajjaj and asked him to stop slaughtering people.

Al-Hajjaj and Shias

AL-Hajjaj continued the method of his Umayyad predecessors to curse 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a) and his progeny and killed people who did not curse them.

Ibn Abi l-Hadid cited Imam al-Baqir's (a) words about Shias being slaughtered by al-Hajjaj as follows:

…Al-Hajjaj killed Shias and imprisoned them with a little of suspicion, such that a man had better be accused of being an unbeliever (zindiq) than a Shia of 'Ali (a).

According to Mas'udi, one day al-Hajjaj told 'Abd Allah b. Hani (a close companion of al-Hajjaj who had an ugly face) that your tribe has no virtue. Ibn Hani began to enumerate the virtues of his tribe. After each of these virtues, al-Hajjaj said: "Yes (it is a virtue)". Ibn Hani said: "all people from my tribe have cursed Abu Turab (that is, Imam 'Ali (a)). Moreover, they also curse his two sons and their mother (that is, Fatima al-Zahra (a)). Al-Hajjaj said: "I swear to God! This is a virtue."

Other Cases

There are other things attributed to al-Hajjaj that are worthy of reflection, including his disrespect of the Prophet (s) and the sacred city of Medina, postponing the prayer, taking the Umayyad caliph to be superior to angels, prophets and the Prophet Muhammad (a), and him saying that it is a more important obligation for him to be obeyed than for God to be obeyed.


Some people maintain that al-Hajjaj died because of Sa'id b. Jubayr's prayer. Sa'id was killed by al-Hajjaj; before his death he prayed to God: "O God, do not make this person dominate anyone else after me". It is said that after 40 days from Sa'id's murder, al-Hajjaj died. During these 40 days, he always saw Sa'id in his dreams telling him while grabbing his neck: "O the enemy of God! Why did you kill me?" At this moment, al-Hajjaj woke up and said: "What has Sa'id to do with me?!"

Al-Hajjaj died in Ramadan or Shawwal, 95/May-June or June-July 714. He willed his successor, Yazid b. Abi Muslim, to bury him secretly and pour water on his grave and erase the signs of his grave so that no one knows where he is buried and his grave not be exhumed.

Al-Hajjaj's Household

During the caliphate of Sulayman b. 'Abd al-Malik, al-Hajjaj's household were tortured, prosecuted, and their property was confiscated. At the command of the Umayyad caliph, al-Hajjaj was cursed on minbars. During the caliphate of 'Umar b. 'Abd al-'Aziz, his household were exiled to Yemen.


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